A mother who raised problem-solving kids

Sometimes the children would take turns in being the ‘least happy child’ in the family

By George Valadie

I’ve never met the woman, though I’d like to. Her name is Sarah Joyce Stuart. And according to Google, my go-to source for most stuff I don’t know, she’s the one writer my wife quotes more than any other.

I suppose Nancy’s ever-after would be more secure if she routinely cited Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. But no, it’s this 72-year-old author from New England.

It’s ironic because Nanc has never read any of her books, columns, or commentaries that I know of. And to be honest, I doubt she even knows she’s quoting her. But I can’t tell you how often she repeats, lives by, and holds dear this one thought:

“A mother is only as happy as her least happy child.”

Happy Mother’s Day!

I don’t know if it’s true for most moms or even other moms, but it’s true for the one in our house.

I have no way of knowing how incredibly wonderful motherhood is. I know fatherhood is pretty dang awesome, but I’ll be the first to admit the bonds that tie aren’t the same.

I’m happy when they’re happy, but she absolutely relishes when one of our girls—we have three—calls or texts with good news. Sometimes it’s the big deal sort of updates: a new job, a new house, a big bonus.

At other times, it’s nothing more than the little joys of life. Their kids got a good report card, or their husbands surprised them with an unexpected date night.

When it comes to the not-so-nice stuff, I don’t want them to struggle or suffer, either. But even if life is good for two of our three, it’s the daughter in pain that sets the bar for how much joy my wife allows herself to feel on any given day.

I’m guessing she’s not alone.

Whatever it is, it’s usually legit. One could be stressed from work, another might have money worries, the other reports of a sick kid or worse—a child that’s been excluded or left out by others.

Things do get better and smiles do return; however, until then … she suffers right along with them.

But to be honest, every now and again their unhappiness can be a bit of an over-reaction.

I remember a phone call from our middle child, Meg, when she was in college. She reached out to her mom just about the time we were settling into bed for the night.

I could tell from our end that life was amiss—it apparently involved a boy, and try though she might, Nanc couldn’t seem to talk her down.

When the call ended, my wife sat straight up with great urgency, “George, you have to go up there. You have to check on her. She’s a mess.”

“Come on, Nanc, be reasonable, it’s a 10-hour drive, and it’s 11 p.m.”

“But she needs us. You have to go.”

“Why don’t we see how she is in the morning before I drive a thousand miles?”

I’m probably a bad dad for falling asleep while Nanc endured what amounted to eight hours of fitful catnapping.

She did manage to wait until mid-morning before calling back to check in.

“Meg, how are you doing?”

“Fine. Why?”

“Why? What are you talking about? You called last night. We talked for 30 minutes. You were miserable. I told your father he had to drive up there.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m good. A bunch of us went to the bar later and everything’s fine. Thanks for calling. I gotta run to class. Talk to you later.”

Though I have to tell you we had an entirely different family dynamic when our oldest called to say, “I didn’t do well in one of my classes, so will you tell everyone I won’t be graduating until next semester?”

When that call ended, I told my wife, “Oh, you don’t even have to ask—I’m driving down there tomorrow. She needs to see my face.”

“Well, I was gonna say, ‘Don’t kill her.’”

My own mom is no longer with us. The woman raised four of us, mostly by herself, on an income for one. It was the most amazing of the many miracles I attribute to her.

And though she never quoted Ms. Stuart, I’m sure she lived her life by the same credo:

“A mother is only as happy as her least happy child.”

She was 87 when she passed with all of us well advanced in our own adult years, yet we never stopped taking turns being that “least happy child.”

Regardless of what she was feeling on the inside, our mom took a bit of a different approach. At least outwardly.

Perhaps it was a generational thing.

Perhaps it was because she didn’t have a partner to tell, “You have to go up there. You have to check on them. They’re a mess.”

Or perhaps it was a felt need to raise independent children who could become their own problem-solvers.

But her approach to our whining seemed to be something more akin to, “Buck up, sister.”

She worked as office manager for our family doctor when I had badly twisted my ankle. With X-rays completed, she came to the waiting room and offered, “You’ve broken four bones in your foot. We’re going to lunch now, and the doctor will set it when we get back.”

Skipping over such things like pain pills and numbing shots, he just shoved my foot into position for slapping on a plaster cast. I in turn let out a scream, several of them in fact.

Mom stuck her head in the door and scolded me, “George! You’ve got to be quiet! You’re scaring the other patients out here.”

I’m not saying her heart wasn’t hurting for her “least happy child”—I’m just saying compassion has a variety of shapes and sizes.

I can’t help but imagine what Mary felt.

She wasn’t entirely sure how she even came to be a mother, much less the mother of her Savior.

Still, she was His mom. And even though she knew He was the Son of God, the Son who already knew what infinite joy could be, she, too, could only be as happy as her least happy child.

They no doubt shared in the miraculous days—literally—when she’d seen Him heal the sick and raise the dead. When the throngs fell at His feet. When the crowds sat mesmerized in rapt attention.

Attention to her boy.

But there were also those other days at the end, when He begged his Father to “remove this cup.”

He had already changed the world forever; His death would save it for all eternity, but for the moment, His unhappiness was heart wrenching.

Imagine hers.

Happy Mother’s Day to all those women who love their children—those they carried, those they adopted, those in their classroom, and those who keep a watchful eye on the latch-key kids down the street.

Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere. To the good ones and those who tried to be.

Happy Mother’s Day. Enjoy 24 hours of much-deserved happiness.

Dear God—We ask your blessings on those who dream to become moms. There’s never enough love in the world. Amen.


George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga.

Comments 2

  1. Always a blessing, George. Thank you for your words and your faith in humanity.

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